Iraq plans mass detainee pardon: top official

Iraq’s government is planning to release thousands of detainees from custody as part of efforts to forge national reconciliation between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims, a top Iraqi official said on Sunday.National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie said Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s “Pardon and Safety” plan would “secure the release of thousands of detainees in Iraqi government prisons”.

“We believe this will contribute a great deal to improving the security situation in the country,” Rubaie said in Basra after Britain formally handed over responsibility for security in Iraq’s second-largest city to Iraqi forces.

The issue of detainees in both U.S. and Iraqi jails is one of the most sensitive in the country, especially as detentions have soared since military operations were stepped up this year.

Rubaie said the Iraqi government was now holding 24,000 detainees and U.S. forces are holding 26,000. Most are held without charge.

Washington has separately said it intends to free most of its detainees by the end of next year, and Rubaie confirmed those plans.

The plan to free detainees held by Iraq must be approved by parliament, he said. Parliament has failed this year to pass several laws seen crucial to cementing national reconciliation between the Shi’ite Muslim majority and the Sunni Arab minority.

The fate of U.S.-held detainees has been a flashpoint since U.S. jailers were shown abusing naked prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad in pictures that came to light in 2004. Sunni Arab leaders have also complained about conditions for prisoners held by the Shi’ite Muslim-led government.

Critics say only a small proportion of those held are ever prosecuted and convicted. The U.S. military contends those still in its custody are there because they pose a security risk and their cases are reviewed every six months.

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